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Some Musings on Resigning Popes of the Catholic Church Some Musings on Resigning Popes of the Catholic Church
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2013-02-13 11:47:08
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The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI has caught the world by surprise. The event seems to have no precedent, but that is because modern man has a short and shallow historical memory. Even a superficial knowledge of the millenarian history of the Catholic Church in Europe and its temporal structure would reveal that, although rare, papal resignations have always been in the realm of possibilities. How many people know that there was another pope by the name of Benedict who resigned in the 11th century? There have been several such resignations in fact, most of them freely taken independent of  political manipulations and sly “advisors to the Pope.” At least five such resignations are now on record: John XVIII in 1009, Benedict IX in 1045, Celestine V in 1294, Gregory XII in 1415, and of course Benedict XVI in 2013.

Lately I find myself musing on those resignations and I’d like to share those musings with the Ovi readership. The precedent I find most compelling is not that of John XVIII and Benedict IX in the 11th century but that of Pope St. Celestine V (1215-1296) in the 13th century, the century of faith and Humanism.  Celestine V resigned the papacy five months after his election. I think that his resignation hints at the present one by Benedict XVI. More on that later.

Celestine V was born as Pietro da Morrone and  was a monk and hermit who founded the order of the Celestines. In 1294, after two years of deliberations, he was elected Pope in the last non-conclave papal election in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. He abdicated the papacy five months later. He was canonized in 1313 and is a saint of the Roman Catholic Church. No subsequent pope has taken the name Celestine.

It was this decision to resign the papacy which has created a great interest in Pope Celestine in modern times. His  life was dramatized in the plays L'avventura di un povero cristiano (The Story of a Humble Christian) by the renowned novelist Ignazio Silone in 1968, and Sunsets and Glories by Peter Barnes in 1990. Pope Celestine V is also referenced in Chapter 88 of Dan Brown's Angels & Demons, where he is referenced as an example of a murdered pope. Celestine V is also mentioned in the film version of the same work.

A 1966 visit by Pope Paul VI to Celestine's place of death in Ferentino along with his speech in homage of Celestine prompted speculation that the pontiff was considering retirement. He put those rumors to rest by quipping that “one cannot resign from fatherhood.” Another pope that visited the remains of St. Celestine V was Benedict XVI in April 2009 while surveying personally the damage caused by the earthquake at L’Aquila the pope visited Celestine's remains in the badly damaged Santa Maria di Collemaggio and left the woolen pallium he wore during his papal inauguration in April 2005 on his glass casket as a gift. 

Then, to mark the 800th anniversary of Celestine's birth, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed the Celestine year from 28 August 2009 through 29 August 2010. Nobody seems to have caught the hint of things to come. In hindsight those actions ought to have been a clear indication that the pope was considering resignation. But I suppose after Paul VI’s declaration that to resign from the Papacy is the equivalent of resigning from fatherhood, that conclusion was far from anybody’s mind.   

And now an intriguing literary query. It is well known that Dante places three Popes in Hell, among which Pope Celestine V and his successor Boniface VIII. This is quite disconcerting coming from the most recognized an undoubtedly greatest of all Catholic poets. It is understandable perhaps why Boniface VIII is placed there. Dante detested his sly corrupt ways and suspected with many others that he had Celestine murdered after his nomination for Boniface could not bear the thought of an ex Pope looking over his shoulders. But why place Celestine V in Hell, a man who, if anything, was the innocent victim in this sad drama?

To solve this puzzle we need to go to Canto III of the Inferno where Dante sets up the intellectual structure of Hell. Hell is the place for those who deliberately, intellectually, and consciously chose an evil way of life, whereas Paradise is a place of reward for those who consciously chose a righteous way of life. Therefore, if Hell is the place for people who made deliberate and intentional wrong choices, there must be a place for those people who refused to choose either evil or good. The entrance of Hell is the proper place for those people who refused to make a choice. People who reside in Hell's vestibule are the uncommitted of the world, and having been indecisive in life — that is, never making a choice for themselves — they are constantly stung into movement.

From among the cowardly fence-sitters, Dante singles out only the shade of one who made "the great refusal" (Inf.III, 60). In fact, he says that it was the sight of this one shade--unnamed yet evidently well known--that confirmed for him the nature of all the souls in this region. The most likely candidate for this figure is Pope Celestine V. His refusal to perform the duties required of the pope, that is to say his abdication, allowed Benedetto Caetani to become Pope Boniface VIII, the man who proved to be Dante's most reviled theological, political, and personal enemy. But why does Dante refuse to name any of the shades?

Dante simply says: I saw and recognized the shade of him/Who by his cowardice made the great refusal. So if Celestine is not named how do we know that the allusion is to him and not Pontius Pilate perhaps. Most scholars, including Dante’s own son Jacopo Alighieri seem to believe that Celestine is rightly in the antechamber to Hell with the cowards for his refusal to be a father and a shepherd thus paving the way for the detested Boniface VIII. Celestine had preferred to return to the obscurity of non-commitment, rather than face the problems of the papacy.

But there is among those scholars an important dissenting voice, that of the father of European Humanism, Francesco Petrarca who vigorously defends Celestine V against the accusations of cowardice and in his “De vita solitaria” (1346) and characterizes Celestine’s refusal as a virtuous example of the solitary holy life. So much for the alleged imposed rigid orthodoxy and suppression of the intellectual life within the Catholic Church. It appears that within such a Church there is plenty of room for disagreement even among brilliant minds such as Dante’s and Petrarca.

And so we are back to the ancient philosophical conundrum posed by Aristotle: given that theory is primary, is the philosophical life mainly a contemplative life, one on the proverbial Platonic “isle of the blessed” in a monastic setting, or are contemplation and theory, as important as they are, to be synthesized to practical action? I wonder what Benedict XVI’s advisors think of such a philosophical conundrum.

 


     
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Emanuel Paparella2013-02-14 00:42:16
I believe it was the great modern philosopher Alfred Whitehead who said that practical activity without theoretical contemplation is mindless, while theory without practical activity is sterile leading to armchair philosophers unconcerned with the problems of the world. A synthesis is desirable given the existential condition of man. We are not angels nor gods. I think Aristotle would fully agree even if he would correctly insist that theory and contemplation remain primary.


Marco Andreacchio2013-02-13 17:59:27
Mr. Paparella,

Though this is no place for me to propose a thorough reading of the important passages you generously refer to, I ask permission to make one suggestion--namely that Dante was never in the company of any rigid orthodoxy (cf. your next to last paragraph).

In the De Vita Solitaria, Petrarca is naturally defending the contemplative life against its detractors. In this Petrarca is in full harmony with a Dante for whom even Epicurean contemplation is better than no contemplation at all (i.e. than the life that does not reflect the natural primacy of contemplation over practical affairs).



Emanuel Paparella2013-02-14 10:25:04
P. S. The paragraph you refer to Mr. Andreacchio reads thus: “So much for the alleged imposed rigid orthodoxy and suppression of the intellectual life within the Catholic Church. It appears that within such a Church there is plenty of room for disagreement even among brilliant minds such as Dante’s and Petrarca.”

You probably know that the designations obscurantism, ignorance, superstition and retrogression are not unusual critiques of the Catholic Church by the "enlightened" intelligentia of Western civilization beginning with Voltaire, never mind an Augustine or a Thomas Aquinas, or a Dante or a Petraca just to mention four universally acknowledged great thinkers and poets.

Chesterton makes the further point in his book on Orthodoxy that such phenomenon properly understood is also a genial contribution of such a Church to global culture. In any case, the point was rather simple but it seems to have been completely missed and it is this: within the parameters of a transcendence revelation and orthodoxy in the Catholic Church (which is not equivalent to ignorance) there have always been disagreements and even controversies allowed.

Dante and Petrarca obviously disagree on the interpretation of “the great refusal” or the resignation from the Papacy of Celestine V and so we end up with the paradox of a saint of the Church being placed in the antechamber to Hell. Nobody in the official Church has ever condemned that passage from Canto V of Inferno as heterodosc. That Church in fact saved the heritage of Greco-Roman Western Civilization from physical barbarism at the end of the Roman Empire (I refer to the copying of the ancient manuscripts and keeping a vestige of civilization) via Benedict’s monasticism) and opposing what Vico dubs “the barbarism of the intellect,” a kind of barbarism even more harmful than the barbarism of the original barbarians from the North, as I have already abundantly described in the pages of Ovi.

An historical fact this that many in the EU no longer know as they continue their vain search for a European cultural identity and find it in banks and globalization, and soccer games and common currency. Too bad!


The Ovi Team2013-02-14 16:24:39
Mr. Marco Andreacchio due to an ugly incident a few months ago all comments are moderated. But we very rarely delete any and that for a good reason. In your case we have deleted only the comment that repeated itself.

We just apologize for the occasional delay.


Emanuel Paparella2013-02-15 10:26:53
P.S.S. Mr. Andreacchio. The ugly reprehensible phenomenon alluded to by the editors of the magazine is, among other things, that of descending to ad hominem arguments by impugning, via the comment section, the professional competency and reputation of one’s interlocutors, hence the need for a moderator.

So, let me briefly mention for the record where and from whom I learned about Italian Humanism, a phenomenon of which both Dante and Petrarch are the most eminent representatives. I have studied the era of Humanism with those two luminaries of the 14th century at Yale University in the 70s with two widely recognized scholars in the field, authors of various influential books and articles: Professor John Freccero and Sterling Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta. From them I learned that indeed one will understand precious little of Italian Humanism unless it is placed in the context of the history of Christianity in Europe. I also learned that both Petrarch and Dante are representative of a pre-Renaissance Italian culture mostly adhering to Christian principles and ideals as promulgated, even if not always practiced, by the Catholic Church, while Vico is the culmination of European Humanism, post-Renaissance. Giuseppe Mazzotta who is both a Dante and a Vico scholar was the advisor of my Ph.D. dissertation on Vico.

Now, given that by implication, if nothing else, you impugn the interpretation of those two emienent scholars, with whom I also agree, it would be gracious on your part if, without descending to academic boorishness or pedantry, you would kindly indicate to me and the Ovi readership the scholarly sources of your studies and learning in the matter, for only a god is born knowing everything or self-teaching everything that he knows. The human condition dictates that we learn first notions somewhere from somebody. Thank you in advance.


Marco Andreacchio2013-02-14 13:42:51
Mr. Paparella,

I do not think that Dante and Petrarca disagree at all in their judging Celestino V (dominant opinions notwithstanding). My suggestion is that in alluding to Celestino's "great refusal," Dante is highlighting the ultimate *insufficiency* of a refusal (esp. in the light of Virgil's "rebellion"). On the other hand (and precisely on the basis of Dante's own lesson), Petrarca is vindicating the intrinsic legitimacy of a refusal--a legitimacy that Dante does not deny in the least. However, I readily concede that in order to *prove* what I here merely suggest, a thorough examination of texts would need to be brought forward.

I should further note that I do not think that either Dante or Petrarca were to any degree representative of the Christian orthodoxy of their times or of any other times.

[Third attempt to post this comment. Will it work?]


Emanuel Paparella2013-02-14 14:20:57
To those who have been following this thread and may find it somewhat illogical and hard to follow: please notice that chronologically the first comment below this article is actually the second comment replying to the very first comment of Mr. Andreacchio which begins the thread. The third one preceded by a P.S. is a follow-up to the second comment by myself. There seem to be two more comments which have not appeared yet.


Marco Andreacchio2013-02-15 17:15:29
Mr. Paparella,

My teachers in Renaissance thought are not Freccero and Mazzotta, but Dante and Vico. F & M are intellectual historians. Dante and Vico are not and do not present themselves as intellectual historians, but as political philosophers.

Intellectual history and political philosophy (in its original signification) are not simply two parallel disciplines, of course. Intellectual historians arise only in late-modern times on the basis of a sense that philosophy is resolved in its history and that the intellectual historian can, so to speak, "see" the philosopher, but the philosopher cannot "see" the intellectual historian.

Although I do not write as an intellectual historian, I am fully aware of intellectual historians of the caliber of Freccero and Mazzotta.


Emanuel Paparella2013-02-15 19:01:00
I remain perplexed. I had hoped that you would have rivealed to us the sources of your notions on Dante and Vico for obviously your interpretation differs from both Professor Freccero and Professor Mazzota's who are internationally recognized scholars in the field. Are we to understand that you were born with such an interpretation and that nobody has influenced you in its elaboration, or perhaps that there are no interpretations? I keep wondering!


Emanuel Paparella2013-02-15 19:38:06
P.S. “My teachers in Renaissance thought are not Freccero and Mazzotta, but Dante and Vico.” (Mr. Andreacchio)

Are we to understand, Mr. Andreacchio, that you have learned about Dante and Vico directly from them, on Mount Olympus so to speak, outside of time and space?


Marco Andreacchio2013-02-16 00:03:10
Mr.Paparella,

you write:

"Are we to understand, Mr. Andreacchio, that you have learned about Dante and Vico directly from them, on Mount Olympus so to speak, outside of time and space?"

My response is that I learned about Dante and Vico primarily by learning *from* them, and I did this primarily by studying their own works. I have come to know them directly by interpreting their works, without relying on any third party.

Although I am reasonably well versed with present day scholarship on Dante and Vico, I have found that none of it makes a direct, unmediated, undiluted, pre-contextualizing acquaintance with primary sources expendable.

I trust that now we can move onto heeding Dante, rather than focusing on minor personalities such as my own.


Leah Sellers2013-02-16 05:26:45
Hello Brother Emanuel,
Sir, please forgive me, but I will leave the scholarly musings between you and Mr. Marco to yourselves.
I will instead stay within the present, and say that I was never really impressed with the present Pope, until he announced that he was leaving his position.
It is the mark of a genuine Leader who truly Cares about his flock that he would Choose to step down from his throne of Power, because he feels that he is no longer up to the Task at Hand. That he should move onto a Life of Prayer, Contemplation and further Theological Studies instead, and leave younger, and more vital Minds to the Devices of Rulership.
That takes a Mind, Heart and Soul of True Humility, Nobility and Honor. That test of Divine/Human Humility in my Mind, Heart and Soul deserves Respect and Admiration.


Emanuel Paparella2013-02-16 09:06:31
Once again the rather simple point was missed, Mr. Andreacchio. The point was not that we can dispense with primary sources while focusing lesser personalities such as ourselves. The point rather was that nobody within our existential situation is born knowing primary or secondary sources and people who ignore what the community of scholars have to say about a particular subject are either supermen or gods transcending time and space or less than human living in a parallel universe from that inhabited by ordinary humans. By the way, that insight is a primary source; it is 24 hundered years old and was enunciated by Aristotle. That insight is still valid today but alas it is still missed despite its simplicity. I often wonder why.


Emanuel Paparella2013-02-16 13:11:50
Indeed Leah, I agree, the reason why Celestine V was elevated to sainthood by the Church is because of all those positive virtues you mention, uppermost among them the humility which is a Christian virtue and even a pagan one, it consists in honestly acknowledging one’s limitations. In fact, I fully agree with Petrarch on this issue and not with Dante. It is well for you to admire that kind of humility even if in the past you have not admired other things in Benedict XVI. But the perplexity remains I am afraid: why would the supreme Catholic poet Dante place Celestine V, of all people, in the antechamber to hell? Dante is in perfect agreement with the official Church when it comes to the saints he places in heaven; not so when it comes to Hell, at least in the case of Celestine V. Naturally one wonders, in the light of coming events, where would Dante place Benedict XVI? Would he place him together with Celestine V? I thought that such a conundrum was worth exploring with those in the Ovi readership who may find it interesting, or as much interesting as palm reading or astrology.


Emanuel Paparella2013-02-16 13:22:06
Mr. Andreacchio, I have no idea whether or not you teach Dante or Vico, but since you mention that you are well versed in their scholarship, I wonder if you’d refuse an offer from a president or a dean at a prestigious university to teach them, the way professors Freccero and Mazzotta still do? Or would you refuse on the grounds that you have nothing to teach to students; they should take themselves directly to Dante and Vico? I have no doubts in my mind that you yourself at one point in your life were a student of Dante under a professor or other, competent or incompetent as he/she might have been, at a university and you did not learn directly from Dante, unless that is you are 700 years old or are perhaps completely self-taught right from your first day on earth till now.


Eleana Winter-Irving2013-02-22 03:20:22
Pope Benedict XVI resigned after an internal investigation informed him about a web of blackmail, corruption and gay sex in the Vatican, Italian media reports said.


Three cardinals were asked by Benedict to verify allegations of financial impropriety, cronyism and corruption exposed in the so-called VatiLeaks affair.

On December 17, 2012, they handed the pontiff two red-leather bound volumes, almost 300 pages long, containing "an exact map of the mischief and the bad fish" inside the Holy See, La Repubblica said.

"It was on that day, with those papers on his desk, that Benedict XVI took the decision he had mulled over for so long," said the centre-left newspaper. It said its article was the first of a series.

Panorama, a conservative weekly, did not speculate about the motives behind Benedict's resignation, but its story about the contents of the confidential report was broadly similar.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi refused to "run after fantasies and opinions" and warned reporters: "Don't expect comments or rebuttals of what is being said on this issue."

La Repubblica quoted a man described as "very close" to the authors as saying the information it contained was "all about the breach of the sixth and seven commandments" - which say "thou shalt not commit adultery" and "thou shalt not steal".

The cardinals were said to have uncovered an underground gay network, whose members organise sexual meetings in several venues in Rome and Vatican City, leaving them prone to blackmail.

The secret report also delves into suspect dealings at the Institute for Religious Works (IOR), the Vatican's bank, where a new chairman was appointed last week after a nine-month vacancy, La Repubblica said, without going into details.

The newspaper said Benedict would personally hand the confidential files to his successor, with the hope he will be "strong, young and holy" enough to take the necessary action.

The authors of the secret report will not take part in the conclave because they are over 80 years old, past the age limit for the meeting. But Panorama said they were likely to inform other cardinals about what they have uncovered.

Their findings "will condition the conclave" as it will have to elect "a pope immune to blackmail, so that he can start the clean-up operation that (Benedict) entrusted to his successor".
9 News World


Emanuel Paparella2013-02-24 16:33:28
One wonders what a Dante or a Petrarch would say about all of the above were they living nowadays. But then, what did they know as medieval men? Today's journalists know how to gather and document the hard evidence and get at the truth, as the above summation clearly shows. Or do they?


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